How to Deal with Guilt
Although it may be fictitious, the story is told of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who pulled a clever, but cruel practical joke on twelve of the best known men in England.
He anonymously wrote a short, unsigned telegram with six simple words: "All is discovered. Flee at once."
According to the story, within 24 hours not one of those men could be found.
Whether true or not, the story reminds me of Proverbs 28:1 "The wicked flee when no one pursues."
One word: Guilt.
Almost everyone carries the burden of past shame, sin and guilt. People handle their guilt in different ways. Some suppress it. Others run from it. And like Adam and Eve, some folks think they can hide their sins from God.
We all regret past wrongs. Angry words hurled in haste. Impetuous reactions to someone's slight. A bad investment. An impulsive decision. An imprudent friendship. An improper relationship. These can all produce feelings of remorse, grief and guilt
But how do we deal with guilt?
On the Friday Christ was crucified, two men faced that question. Peter and Judas. They are an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.
Both Peter and Judas were chosen by Jesus to be apostles. Both men held respected positions. Judas was the Treasurer. Peter was the unofficial spokesman and a part of Jesus' inner circle.
Both Peter and Judas had the opportunity to sit at Jesus' feet. They heard His stirring sermons. Witnessed His healing touch. Saw His powerful miracles. And watched and listened as Jesus refuted his critics, answered questions, and confounded the religious leaders.
Both Peter and Judas received rebuke from Jesus. Judas was reprimanded for his complaint when Mary anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume. Peter was corrected more than once for his impulsive outbursts.
Both Peter and Judas were imperfect men who committed sins. Judas placed a kiss of betrayal on Jesus' cheek for 30 pieces of silver. And Peter denied knowing Jesus. Not once. Not twice. But three times! And both men regretted their shameful actions.
Matthew records that "when Judas … saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:3-4).
Luke says that after Peter denied Jesus the third time and heard the rooster crowing, he remembered the words of Jesus "and went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62). Both men were filled with regret. Remorse. And sorrow for their sins.
But there is a huge difference between Peter and Judas in the way they dealt with their wrong-doing.
The Bible says that Judas threw the money down in the temple and "went out and hanged himself." On the other hand, Peter repented. He returned and rejoined the other apostles. We see Peter running to the empty tomb following the resurrection. Later Peter received words of comfort and exhortation from Jesus prior to his ascension.
Judas was filled with remorse, but quit. His cowardly character was evident as he stole from the treasury until he took his own life. Ironically, he hung from one tree filled with shame, sorrow and sin, while Jesus hung from another tree providing redemption. Judas could have been forgiven, like Peter, but he made the wrong choice.
Peter is remembered as a powerful proclaimer of the gospel and a proponent of truth, while Judas is forever labeled as a coward, a traitor, the Benedict Arnold of the Bible.
How do you grapple with guilt? You don't have to quit. Or succumb to your worse impulses. Jesus is the ransom for our sins. He's the answer!
Don't give in to guilt, remorse or despair. Yes, you feel the wounds of your mistakes. Of course, your conscience cuts you to the quick. And your heart aches because of unresolved wrongs. But don't be a Judas!
You can be forgiven. Restored. Redeemed. And find your place again. Where you belong. Follow the example of Peter who returned to Jesus.